IOC-banned Russian athletes ask Putin for help amid doping row

Five Russian athletes suspended from international competition over doping allegations have turned to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help. They say they can turn to no one else.

Bobsledders Alexander Kasyanov, Aleksei Pushkarev and Ilvir Khuzin, as well as two skeleton athletes – 2014 Olympic champion Aleksandr Tretyakov and Sochi bronze medalist Elena Nikitina – pleaded for the president’s intervention after being targeted in the ongoing doping row and barred from competing at international events. In an open letter, the five say they were “unfairly” denied a right to compete.

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This may be an emotional outburst and the wording may not be accurate, but we are shocked over what is being done to us,” Kasyanov explained to TASS news agency. “We don’t really know what else we can do.”

Earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia will do everything possible defend the interests of its athletes, reiterating that there has never been any state-run doping program in the country.

Last Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) handed life bans for any future Winter Games to four Russian winter-sports athletes, including the two members of the skeleton team, who have now appealed to Putin. The IOC also annulled their results for the Sochi games.

Following the IOC’s verdict, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) imposed provisional suspensions on the Russian athletes who had been affected by the IOC sanctions. The decision may be appealed, but at the moment they cannot participate in any IBSF event.

This week, the IOC and later the IBSF imposed a similar punishment on the three bobsledders. The penalties are part of a wider crackdown on an alleged system of government-backed doping in Russia, which Moscow denies ever existed.

READ MORE: IOC disqualifies 4 Russian skeleton athletes, strips Russia of more Olympic medals

The crackdown by the World Anti-Doping Organization (WADA) and the IOC is mostly based on evidence provided by fugitive former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory Grigory Rodchenkov. Moscow insists that the official is an unreliable witness and that Russia is being targeted unfairly for political reasons.

Russia’s participation in the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea remains in jeopardy amid the doping probes. A proposal to ban the Russian national team will be discussed at the IOC Executive Board meeting on December 5 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Moscow has threatened to boycott the games, refusing to purchase broadcasting rights to the event in Russia, unless athletes are allowed to compete under the Russian national flag.

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